Should children's books not be gender exclusive?


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First Aired on The Sunday Edition (23/03/14)

Recently, the literary section of The Independent on Sunday made international headlines when it vowed to only review children's books that aren't explicitly targeted at boy or girls.

Katy Guest, the U.K. newspaper's literary editor, joined The Sunday Edition host Michael Enright to discuss the controversial decision.

"Well, I thought this might create a bit of a stir having said this, but it's been extraordinary," she said. "The piece I wrote on The Independent's website has been viewed by a couple of hundred thousand or more people, Twitter has gone mad, I've been called a Nazi, I've been called a hero, I've been called a saint ... I'm just a books editor who has a relatively small section to fill and I have to choose the best books I can find to recommend to my readers."

Guest wanted to clarify that she wasn't aiming to shun books like Little Women or The Hardy Boys -- books with female and male protagonists that identify gender in the titles. The idea is to avoid books that are clearly marketed towards only girls or only boys -- for example, pink-coloured books about baking cupcakes titled The Little Girl's Guide To Baking, or blue-coloured books about sports titled Sports for Boys.

"I simply cannot recommend a book which excludes half of readers from the outset."

Guest mentioned that several authors have approached her and said they've been feeling more pressure from publishers to tailor their books to make it easier to market to separate genders, possibly by changing the sex of the main character or making the cover more stereotypically girlish or boyish. The literary editor noted that when she was growing up in the 1970s, she shared everything with her brother, including toys, clothes and books. If you persuade a girl that she can only do "girl things," and a boy that he can only do "boy things," then "parents have to buy twice as much as stuff," she argued.